Four Tragic Shifts in the Visible Church | Jon Zens

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In "Four Tragic Shifts in The Visible Church," Jon Zens provides a brief and helpful argument for a return to the NT pattern of church structures and body life. The article concerns the nature of what happens when believers gather together, and he argues that whatever structure and manner of gathering believers may adopt, it must not stifle or prohibit them from doing the kinds of things that we find the church doing in the New Testament. We would strongly recommend this article to anyone seriously concerned that the church follow the patterns found on the pages of the New Testament. The article is short, about 8 pages, but it lays some very good foundations for study.

Jon begins his article with the following brief summary:

"While there are a legion of disagreements among serious students of church history concerning various issues and details during the period of 50 A.D. to 325 A.D., they all speak as one voice in affirming the four undeniable shifts that will be examined in this article. Church historians of all theological and ecclesiastical backgrounds observe in their writings the following four shifts:

1. The church portrayed in the New Testament was a dynamic organism, a living body with many parts. The church from around 180 A.D. onwards became an increasingly hardened institution with a fixed and complex hierarchy.

2. The early church was marked by the manifestation of a poly-form ministry by which edification and the meeting of needs were accomplished through the gifts of all the brethren. The post-apostolic church moved more and more toward a uniform conception of church offices which separated ministry from the 'laity' and limited significant ministry to the 'clergy'.

3. The church of the first and most of the second centuries was characterized by cycles of intense difficulty and persecution - it was a suffering body. With the advent of Constantine the church became protected, favored and ultimately sanctioned as the state religion by the Roman state, and thus became an institution at ease.

4. In the New Testament the church, with no small measure of vulnerability, depended on the Holy Spirit to hold the brethren together and to lead them in ministry. Later, the church trusted in itself as a very powerful institution, along with its many rules, rites and offices to secure visible unity among its adherents."

One word of caution: We do not necessarily endorse the views of Jon Zens in matters outside the articles we have posted by him. In recent years, despite his own different views, he has increasingly become more publicly associated with those who insist on the house church format. We are less comfortable with the direction of his ministry than we used to be, but the articles we have by him on this website are exceptional and deserve a wide readership.