Tuesday, January 3, 2012
BOOK REVIEW: TORCH OF THE TESTIMONY by John W. Kennedy
"Church is the sphere of the rule of Christ who dells in the midst of His people. Where subservience and devotion to Him remain the basic factors and rule of the church's life, His rule reaches down into the spirit and soul of a man which are the source of all his actions...the true, spiritual history of the church often takes its course through the generations of those who were despised by organized Christendom and not through the edifice of traditional Christianity." John W. Kennedy, The Torch of the Testimony
It has been stated that the "Acts of the Apostles" should be more correctly titled, the "Acts of the Holy Spirit." It has also been stated that the book of Acts is an open-ended book without a clear "ending" because the Acts of the Holy Spirit were just getting started. In my opinion, this book gives us a slice of the Acts of the Holy Spirit throughout the last 2000 years of church history outside of religious church structures that had hardned into dry forms, rituals, and ceremony.
This book deserves a wider audience among believers, not only those who are seeking more organic expressions of meeting together as the early church did, in simplicity, in devotion to apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer, but of those who are in institutional churches as well. The reason I say this is that both groups need to understand and appreciate the ultimate price that our brothers and sisters have paid in order to pursue the Lord with singularity of heart in their attempt to return to scriptural principles of meeting together without the benefit of ecclesiastical hierarchies, orders of service, or ritual and ceremony.
In all of my years, I have never understood why so many devoted believers were exiled, jailed, tortured, beheaded, burned at the stake, and hung by religious authorities, both Catholic and Protestant, that claimed to be churches of Jesus Christ. I never understood why those who translated the bible into the common language of the people were also hung and burned at the stake. This book explains the inexplicable and the threat these simple believers presented to the church authorities.
I learned as well why God moved revival to Antioch even as the Jerusalem revival that took place at Pentecost began to harden into form and ritual and ceremony. Indeed, this is the pattern that emerges throughout the spiritual history of the church. First revival breaks out in an organic fashion, then tenants and doctrines are set up to solidify the fresh move of God into set forms, and then the forms harden into apathy and ceremonialisms void of spiritual vitality. As Kennedy writes about God's move from Jerusalem to Antioch in this way:
"The Spirit of God had to move elsewhere to start on fresh and more free ground. We see here but the beginning of a pattern of events which is repeated over and over again throughout the history of the church. 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 plan of the church grows best in a soil uncluttered by the pretty hedgerows of man's limited understanding."
I also learned what place Augustine, whom I have always admired, played in institutionalizing "violence" within the church as a method of conversion.
As Kennedy writes:
"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 perpetration of centuries of ruthlessness in the name of Christ."
I cannot recommend this book enough to seekers who desire to know how God has been actively moving throughout the spiritual history of His church outside of "organized Christianity." Here you will find the "torch of the testimony" burning brightly throughout 2000 years of a gospel that speaks of a living Christ who desires direct access to His people without the haze and obfuscations of forms, rituals, or the consent of clerical hierarchies which have ordained themselves as either heads of Christ's church, or as mediators between God and man. There is only one Head of the church, and one mediator between man and God, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. It seems those who really understood this, who practiced such a radical faith, were willing to pay such a radical price, because they knew such a radical Lord.
"Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 2 Cor. 3:17
Posted by Clark Wade at 6:44 PM