Revelation vs. Accommodation
Generations Growing From Glory to Glory
Thursday Morning, October 19, 2000
(A living room conversation about some aspects of the History of Christendom, virtually guaranteed to excoriate and exasperate the status quo. Best read and understood by deciding in advance to enjoy the seed rather than to battle details. Try to stay relaxed! : ) And ignore the style, grammar, small particulars, and all of that?
It was just a conversation, with some folks from different states who also desire God’s Heart for His People in their locales.)
Throughout history we can see that God has used individuals to restore understanding to His People on various subjects and different aspects of His Fullest Intention. As Josiah’s people found the scrolls buried in the temple, and earnestly desired to put into practice what had been there all along, every generation has unburied yet another portion of the scrolls. God has slowly restored Truths that were lost for centuries as we were able to bear it, and even then, not without major opposition at times. And generally, the people He has used, who have been given a major puzzle piece, even a corner piece, often have had a very skewed understanding or no understanding of other aspects of God’s Truth. Usually they are still carrying much of the baggage (“empty tradition”) that has been handed down to them by their forefathers. Still, they have done us a great service. God has used them to bring us some very needed lights. Even through very flawed individuals, like us.
For instance, Charles Finney had some baggage. Now, you could say, because of his baggage, that Finney was a pretender and everything he did was a sham and everything he said was ridiculous because there were so many flaws. I wouldn’t do that if I were you! On the other hand, you could say Jesus is opening the scrolls and we need to build on what Finney did, not discount it. Neither should you consider God’s work through Finney as the final word on every subject. “Well, if Finney brought 500,000 people to Christ and he didn’t know anything about the Church (and he DIDN’T!), then there must not be anything about the Church we need to know. Obviously Finney was touched by God, and he didn’t deal with anything about the local Body of Believers, and his practice in his day totally contradicted many Scriptures about what a Church is to be. So, we can ignore anything that he didn’t teach about the Church or practice, because God was working through him, so he must have been right. That proves the Scriptures about what the local assembly should be as an organic, daily expression of the Life of Christ aren’t really important.”
Well, Charles Grandison Finney may be totally right in several areas and yet be totally wrong in others. That’s not necessarily the product of his lack of relationship with God, or a flawed life. Nor is it the final word. It is simply a building stone, a building block, in the restoration process—and we need to embrace it as such. If he lived today and built the way he did THEN (just speaking at meetings with clergy and laity and no Kingdom of Priests or daily Life, and leaven throughout the batch because of this lack of relationship), it would be a heinous crime before God, and totally inexcusable. But, the scroll had not been unfurled just yet. Many things had not yet been Seen. Azusa Street wasn’t on the map yet, and Matthew 28:18 did not yet make sense.
The same is true with Watchman Nee. Oh, what awesome insights into so many things! What a tremendous contribution Nee made to the People of God! And yet, he wrote a book that, how shall I say...absolutely stinks. : ) It’s totally wrong. It needs to be in the trash can. It’s worse than your average watered-down, fleshly denominational stuff. He knew almost nothing about some subjects. In his day, the context of corporate church life was, in part, that of having a holy person descend once a week to teach a group of people with pens and papers and ascend back into the clouds (back up the stairs of the “house”). Then the wise sage would bring another message from God next week, same time, same place. In that context, that’s the best book on that subject he could write. Had he lived in a later generation where the scroll had been opened a little further, he would have been ashamed of that book. He would have burned it, but he would have kept 90% of his other writings because those really were from God and were things that Jesus was unrolling in the scroll.
Unfortunately, in his era, the “leader” was “da-man” and did not allow his life to be as accountable and accessible in daily life as any other brother. “Call no man teacher, leader, father...for you are ALL BROTHERS!” At the time, it may have been all that there was available. What would be totally defiant of God and disobedient today may have been somewhat okay then. It’s not now. The “talking head” that is assigned (or exalted as the big cheese “speaker” or “author”) for this conference or seminar or “service” is not God’s way, and will never again be something that God overlooks. In times past, He winked at our ignorance. It is man’s way, not God’s.
This whole subject of “only Jesus is worthy to loose its seal and open the scroll” first started occurring to me back when we were just leaving New England, years ago now. I wrote something called “Mission Possible.” Basically, it was written because the elders at the denomination I was leaving were saying, “We understand that you’re going to another city and that you have to do this for God. But could you at least capture some of what it is you are Seeing and what you’re doing and write it down for us so we can benefit from it, too?”
So I wrote it down in three parts. It occurred to me about a year after moving, after the scroll had been unrolled a little further in our lives, that Part 1 was revelation about what a Christian is and what leadership is (very different from the lukewarm modern day, unbiblical culturally acceptable definitions and practices today). Part 2 was revelation about what the Church is to be (also very different from the lukewarm modern day, unbiblical culturally-acceptable definitions and practices today). But, Part 3 was accommodation, NOT REVELATION. It was like, I know these things are true and I know what things cannot be true any longer, since they are disobedient to Jesus’ Teaching, but I don’t know what things OUGHT to look like, practically speaking. Maybe it looks like this. Maybe it looks like that. And I just made up some stuff for Part 3 that seemed, at the time, to somehow fit with the two things that were revelation. “Obviously the Bible shows us clearly that Believers met in homes, not in buildings. SO, we’ll just split up into more and more ‘house churches’ when we get to a certain size. After all, that would be logical and expedient, and facilitate good group dynamics and participation and relationships. And ‘evangelism’ will happen this way. And Korah leadership style, instead of Balaam’s or Cain’s. And Ted Mack Amateur Hour open meeting style, with time limits on speaking, and and and... And how about a ‘ladies’ day’ meeting where only ladies can hear God and speak? And an every third Saturday prayer breakfast? And the homeless will be fed this way. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” I’m exaggerating my own foolishness, but truthfully, it was utter nonsense.
No matter how well intentioned, it was wrong. Good ideas, but NOT Revelation, nor Apostolically grounded. It was accommodation. I was accommodating my craving of Spiritual Truth and Christ’s Life in the Body of Christ (a good thing) with the Ishmaelic “ordinary logical way” (Gal. 4) “wisdom from the earth—wisdom from below” (Jas. 3). Later it was obvious that numerous Scriptures make it clear that no such “splitting up” house churches when they “got to a certain size” ever happened, even when there were as many as 15,000 with common leadership in Jerusalem. The “accommodation” I had to come up with—because of insufficient Revelation—was worthless. Accommodating my own “common sense” when I was coming up empty handed as to HOW to go about God’s business was, and is always, such a temptation. Saul did that with “the sacrifice”—and lost everything. Israel did that by wanting to “accommodate” their common sense and search for practical administrative answers by wanting a king. And God’s People were REJECTING GOD HIMSELF by their great ideas of how to administrate—according to God Himself. This is serious stuff!
This is the same thing that happened to Abraham. He hears from God that he is going to be the father of many nations. Well, he has to have babies to do that. He heard from God. Then his wife has an idea and he figures, well, this seems to fit; perhaps this is right. And he produces Ishmael. He had true revelation, but then he used accommodation in order to accomplish the revelation because he didn’t know how to make it happen. It didn’t make sense to him, so he just grabbed the best idea he could. He did it out of a clear conscience. This was not sin on his part, in the strictest sense. But it was accommodation and not revelation.
So basically, the history has been the scroll unrolling and then individuals gaining revelation of some truth, like discipleship. The scroll unrolled a little bit, and Simpson, Baxter, Mumford, Tomzak, Mahaney, Derrick Prince and all these guys embrace this truth. Ultimately, you have Kip McKean and Chuck Lucas building an entire theology around it. These guys said, “This is awesome, this is true. Obey it. Teach them to obey everything I command, not teach them everything I taught them. This isn’t a bible class. Teach them to obey everything I commanded. That’s discipleship. That’s training. That’s personal. ‘You will obey this,’ not, ‘You should know this.’ That’s a whole different way to have Church. That’s right. It’s always been in the Scriptures. Here are 38,000 other Scriptures that say the same thing. Why didn’t we see this before?” That was revelation. Accommodation was, “I know. I am more spiritual than you are, so I’ll make you obey. And you’re more spiritual than they are, so you make them obey.” They started creating pyramid schemes with people assigned to different people and systems to accomplish what had been revealed. It was an accommodation of a revelation and it ended up having man’s greasy fingerprints all over it. It was legalistic garbage and it got all twisted up.
We need to go back and extract the revelation without accommodating the flesh with some sort of a program or convenient well-administrated calendar-ized slick way to make it work. We need to glean the truths these folks discovered and embrace them, while begging God to help us remove the Ishmaelic inventions that were added out of good intentions.
Question: We clearly see now that God intends that we function as a priesthood of believers, encouraging one another daily, each one using whatever gift he has to build up the rest of the Body in love, no longer walking in the foolishness of a clergy/laity system. But this truth has only been clear recently. Was Watchman Nee or Charles Finney in sin when he violated these truths that have always been a part of God’s heart? Weren’t these truths just as true then as they are now? Was it that Nee couldn’t see because he didn’t want to see because of something he was holding on to, or was it that Jesus prevented him from seeing it because of His own Sovereign timing? “This is a truth now that I want you to recognize, now.” Then ten years later, “Here’s another truth.”
Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws him.” So for the light bulb to pop on, the Spirit must do His work. All truth already exists, but the Spirit brings it into remembrance. The Spirit will teach you everything I taught you. So basically, it comes back to the fact that we are incapable of approaching spiritual things as if it’s calculus. If I study harder, I’ll learn it. If I learn it, I’ll know it. If I know it, I’ll apply it. Now I have it. But, the spiritual realm isn’t like that.
Jesus said clearly, “No man can come to the Father unless I draw him.” “I praise You, Father, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.” In other words, it is possible to have spiritual truth right in front of you and not be capable of seeing it. Now the reason why God did that is Kingdom Principle #1: “...lest any man boast” (Eph. 2:9). In other words, man is incapable, regardless of his effort, his sincerity, his devotion to God, his intellect, his study habits, to really comprehend truth—revelation, the light bulb popping on—apart from the Spirit of God making him aware. You can read it, study it, be sure you’re right, and yet be totally wrong. “You’ve hidden these, Father, from those who are proud, and revealed them to little children.” To the scripture experts of His day, Jesus said, “You are in error because you don’t know the scriptures.” They ate, slept and breathed the Scriptures, but they were blind to what those scriptures had the potential to reveal. They “could not hear the voice of the prophets that were read every Sabbath.” The Truths of God, as well studied as they may be, “are foolishness to the unSpiritual. They CANNOT understand.” A lifetime of study could not produce a spiritual revelation. You can’t study hard enough to get there in the spiritual realm. In the academic realm, if you have enough intellect, you can do it. Some denominations approach Christianity as an intellectual endeavor. You study diligently; you use the scientific method to establish truth; the eldership, church organization, the order of worship, the five steps of salvation. You approach the whole thing with the scientific method. If/then statements. Just analyze it all and then you have truth. You do truth. Extract it from the Bible and you go from there.
However, the Scriptures are very clear. Jesus’ teaching is very clear that the only way we can truly understand truth and see things is by God Himself. Truths can be hidden from us or revealed to us by God alone. This takes intellect and mental gymnastics as the means of understanding right out of the equation. The Words of God are “SEED” according to Jesus, Peter, and Paul. They are meant to be planted, not dissected. Dissection KILLS the life of the seed, it does not give you power over it. You do need to study intently and “search intently with the greatest of care,” as it says in 1 Peter 1:10-11 to find out what the Spirit of God is pointing towards. So, you have this supernatural aspect that requires humility and prayer and fasting, and God’s kindness—lest any many boast. No man could, then, ever boast. “I know these things because I’m smarter, I study harder, I pray more. I have achieved greater knowledge because of...” God will not permit that. So there’s a supernatural issue of being able to see or not see, to understand or not understand. That’s where the scrolls are unfurled.
You can see, beginning in Genesis 2, bits and pieces of the puzzle being disclosed to humanity. Adam prophesies about the serpent striking the heel, the head being crushed, and a man shall leave his father and mother. Well, what are a father and mother? Adam didn’t have one. From Genesis 3, if you keep tracing these prophetic things through the Old Testament, we are given glimpses of the scroll, but it is still somewhat of a mystery. And we need, as Daniel identified Him, the “Revealer of Mysteries.” In Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” A child is given to us. Yet, He is Everlasting Father. How can that be? The Son is given to us. Yet He is also the Everlasting Father. He’s a baby, and yet He is a Father at the same time. That was a new revelation. They didn’t understand what that meant. The scrolls opened a crack further and provided another clue in the Mystery of the Ages. It had been many centuries earlier that they received the revelation in Genesis 3. They’d been functioning with that for a long time. Now they have the ability to discover that the Messiah is a Father and a Baby. “Wow, what is this? This is odd. We had no idea.”
This has been the process. The scroll is slowly unrolled as the Father has seen fit to give us Grace. And with the invention of the printing press and all of the tools we have for understanding languages, the pace of discovery has really accelerated, at least intellectually. But the potential for revelation that exists now has increased dramatically in this century.
I can remember something that happened to me a few months after I became a Christian. I was sitting in a pew someplace, and I read in Ephesians 3:10 where it says, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” I remember excitedly yellow highlighting that verse and leaning over to someone and saying, “Can you believe this? This is incredible!” And she said, “What does it mean?” And I said, “I don’t know.”
And I didn’t know what it meant then. But at the time, it struck me as, “This is incredible! This is unbelievable!! This is huge!!! This is going to change everything!!!!” But I didn’t know exactly why or how or anything like that. It was just a light bulb that popped on, by God’s Grace. He unrolled the scroll just a little bit, showed me a peek and then rolled it back up again. Just to tantalize me. It was probably four or five years before I really understood what that meant. But it worked on me. Rarely did a day go by, in those four or five years where I didn’t ask God what that meant—where I didn’t roll around the carpet a little bit trying to find the meaning of it. What will this look like? I could see the Scripture. I could analyze the Greek (which I did many times, but I still didn’t get it). What does it mean? What does it look like? What am I supposed to do about it? It was just a riddle to me. It was killing me.
But that’s how God does it. He just opens things up. Somebody, some place, at some time, saw, “Teach them to obey everything I command you.” And that person said, “We have not been doing this. We have read this Scripture for 1900 years and we have always read it, ‘Teach them everything I taught you.’ That’s what our eyes saw when we read this Scripture. But that’s not what it ever said. It said, ‘Teach them to obey everything I command,’ not, ‘Teach what I taught.’ Why didn’t we see this before?” And then here’s where the trouble begins. “Okay now, what should we do about it?” Where’s Hagar? “I know. We’ll assign partners and now we’ll be obeying this for the first time ever. Hallelujah. Everybody will be obeying this. We’ll set up a whole system so that everybody will have a partner assigned to them as soon as they become a member. And now everybody will be obeying the Scripture. We finally did it. Okay. On to the next one!” Ishmael is born. Born out of good intentions.
Notice that we had read that Scripture forever, and yet no one ever really saw what it said. At some point, in recent history, this was a major revelation (although many still haven’t seen it)! It was a supernatural occurrence. And we need to recognize it as such and not get our grubby hands all over it and turn it into a program. Let’s never forget what Watchman Nee or Charles Finney or whoever else brought us. Let’s graft those revelations into our lives. Let’s not reject their puzzle pieces because of the Ishmaelic abuses. Let’s forget the Ishmael part, but let’s not forget God’s part of this thing. “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1Thes. 5:21).
If Watchman Nee lived in this generation, he would probably be teaching all of the same things that he taught. But he would be doing it as a brother amongst brothers instead of a holy man who arrives to deliver his speech and then goes back to his room to meditate. He would just be a brother amongst brothers. At the time, he was probably living up to all of the things he could see. He did the best he could. What he did for us needs to be embraced. We need to build on it. If you come across something in his teaching that is off the mark, you can simply recognize that, “Well, the scroll wasn’t unrolled far enough.” A.W. Tozer said some amazing things. Charles Spurgeon, amazing things. But they did it in the middle of a ridiculously unbiblical denominational system. They threw firebombs into the denominational system, but then passed the basket and took their money as one of their own. As hypocritical as this would be today, they did the best they could (as far as we know) with what they had been given in their day.
One of the classic illustrations is John Wesley’s father. The guy was a good man, but some members of his own congregation burned down his house. The incident almost killed young John. He had to be thrown from a window to save his life. They burned down his house with his family in it because they didn’t like his preaching. This was on a Saturday. On Sunday, he went up to his pulpit and “preached” his “sermon” as if nothing had ever happened. This was viewed as the most incredible act of spiritual maturity you could ever imagine in a thousand lifetimes. What a man of God! Well, you and I would read about that today and say, “He was foolish and disobedient.” He had a bunch of murderous people sitting in front of him, “leaven in the batch,” which was FORBIDDEN by God, and he was hypocritically giving a “sermon” to them instead of asking them out into the yard and asking, “Why did you burn my house down?” A mature believer will not take revenge or go burn their houses down, but will offer it up to God. However, it is not “maturity,” but hypocrisy and disobedience, to not talk to them about it, and then bring two or three, and then bring a matter of unrepented sin to the Church. JESUS said DO IT. That’s not maturity to go on as if nothing happened. God said, “Admonish one another daily.” God said, “If any man sins, go to him and him alone. If he won’t hear you, bring one or two witnesses.” He was disobeying Jesus. But at the time it was considered spiritually mature because he could “preach a sermon”—with his suit still smoldering—as if nothing happened.
(At that time there was little to no revelation of the nature of the Church. Check the reading material from the era. NO ONE understood what the Church was supposed to be, as a Body of Believers “joined and knit together,” “contending as one man for the Faith,” “bearing one another’s burdens,” “confessing sins one to another,” Life-giving, gates-of-hell-busting, organic, daily entity. No one understood the Church in that era. It was something you joined and attended. We know that is absurd, but they did not.)
The “members” probably weren’t even Christians if they attempted to kill a family while they were sleeping. Odds are, they were probably not saved. Yet he was “preaching” a “sermon” to people as if they were saved, when they probably weren’t. His whole paradigm of Church was in error, but in his context, he was probably doing the best he could. It would be total hypocrisy to do that now. We know better now. We have greater revelation.
So, we go back and find all these awesome things different men discovered. And yet they also had major blind spots, things they just couldn’t see. But what those guys contributed is still unbelievable and they are, no doubt, innocent for the vast majority of the things that they didn’t know. They did their best. We’ve all encountered similar situations in our own growth. We look back now and say, “I can’t BELIEVE I used to think that, or do that!” One for me was my experience with that verse in Ephesians 3:10. I read it, I knew it was important, and yet I didn’t understand what it meant. The light bulb popped on, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how to go forward with it. So you read the same thing again and again, and one day on the 40,000th time, you say, “The ‘Great Commission’ doesn’t say to go teach people what Jesus taught. It doesn’t say that.” Or (in the parable of the wheat and tares, in Matthew 13), “Wow, the field is the world, not the church. That means there are weeds in the world, not in the church! 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and all of the other verses make sense after all!” My eyes always saw it one way. Now God has turned the Light bulb on and I can see what it really says now. We’ve all experienced that.
My perspective would be to recognize that those men probably did the best they could with what they could see, and just extract as much as we can from them and continue building on it. If you happen to read one book out of twenty that Nee wrote that turns out to be junk, just pitch it. It may well be an accommodation rather than a revelation. Every generation has had revelation and accommodation. Just grab the revelation, learn to correct the accommodation in your own life and help those around you. Don’t condemn those men of the past for what they didn’t know. Just continue building on the revelation that they received and passed on to us. “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” Don’t stop building. Be faithful with what we’ve inherited, and don’t turn to Hagar for help in getting “practical” with what revelation we do receive. Wait on God for the Real thing!